Beliefs don’t matter.
However, they also do matter.
Confusing, right? Well, perhaps only at first glance. It’ll all make sense by the end of this piece. I promise.
When I say that beliefs don’t matter, what I mean is, contrary to what we learned in the Protestant tradition, our beliefs about God, or Jesus, or atonement, or the Bible, or so-called “sound doctrine,” aren’t our primary source of salvation. They aren’t our identity. We are more than our beliefs. Some people don’t believe that, though, which is one reason why they get so up in arms any time someone comes along and challenges their beliefs. We think our identity is at stake, and that scares the bejesus out of us.
On the flipside, when I say that beliefs do matter, what I mean is that they will impact how we approach this beautiful, present moment. If we believe God is gonna get us, that he’s gonna send us to hell and punish us for time everlasting if we don’t put together the magic doctrinal puzzle that unlocks the gates of heaven, then we are gonna have a hell of a time enjoying what Richard Rohr would call the naked now. That is to say, our present moment is going to be shrouded in existential angst and anxiety.
This fact – that beliefs don’t matter but that they do – is just one of those paradoxical truths of the universe. Like light, which behaves both as a wave and a particle, beliefs function in the same way. But to understand this, we must not get caught up in the dualism that typically governs our lives.
Honestly, dualism is all fine and dandy. In fact, to reject dualism completely is, in and of itself, dualistic. We need dualism for lots of things: binary computer code, getting from one place to another, learning our colors, describing the world around us, etc. As my best-friend Michael Machuga once told me, “everything in moderation, including moderation.” But too often, our dualism infects the parts of life that need to be more nuanced: our faith traditions, our politics, how we approach issues of justice, how we raise our kids, etc. To that end, in order to shed dualistic thinking, we need to include it in our daily lives and make sure it is put in its proper place. It’s like the ego. It belongs, but it needs to be in its proper place in order to function “properly.”
Again, this will be tough for religious folks to grasp, especially folks who believe that it is our “faith IN Christ” that saves us. For these folks, our salvation rests upon what we think about Christ. If we don’t have faith IN him, we are doomed. However, what if it is not our faith IN Christ that saves us, but trusting in the fact that Christ had faith? That’s what I believe Paul meant by “pistis Christou,” or what some translate as “faith in Christ.” The better translation, however, and the one endorsed by folks like Ben Witherington, N.T. Wright, David Bentley Hart, J. Louis Martyn, and Douglas Campbell, is that the “faithfulness/faith of Christ” is what is primary, and that trusting in that is what follows.
Both our trust and Christ’s faith are important, but all I’m suggesting is that we don’t put the cart before the horse. Religious dogmatists have things backwards. They think it’s our beliefs, our faith, our affirmations, our doctrines, our dogmas that save us. What they fail to understand is that what we do is secondary to what God/Christ has already done in the world. Think of it like this: both repentance and forgiveness are vitally important to living in right relationship to God and each other. Many Christians emphasize repentance, which then “unlocks” God’s forgiveness. I’m just suggesting the opposite: God’s forgiveness is preemptive, it’s primary, and secondary to that is repentance. Both are crucial, but God’s act is first.
Going back to beliefs…
Beliefs are important, but God’s belief about us is primary to our beliefs about ourselves or God. Put in their proper place, then, the present moment opens up before us. Why? Because God’s posture toward us is always grace, mercy, love, compassion, and empathy. As Ephesians 3:18 teaches us, Christ’s love is wider, longer, higher, and deeper than we could ever fathom. So, if we trust this, then what do we have to worry about? Not God. Not what happens when we die. Not going to some horrible corner of the universe called hell. Our doctrines, our dogmas, our theologies, all sort of melt away and become more derivative, which allows us to see the present moment for what it is – imbued with beauty, love, and light.
So, are you more confused than ever? I hope not. I promised that this would make sense, so if it didn’t, feel free to comment below and tell me that I’m full of it. But remember, that’s just, like, your belief maaaaan. It’s not truly who you are 😉
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